A plane destined for East Midlands Airport came within 100ft of hitting a drone over Derbyshire, a new study has revealed.
The incident was one of more than 300 near-misses between drones and aircraft across the UK even before the major disruption seen at Gatwick and Heathrow this winter.
This includes 15 incidents across the East Midlands and five in Derbyshire
Drone sightings brought 36 hours of chaos to Gatwick Airport in the run-up to Christmas, with runways closed and 1,000 flights affected in what police described as a “deliberate act” of disruption.
Heathrow was also forced to ground flights after drone sightings in early January.
But pilots had begun to report narrowly missing drones in the sky from 2010 onwards, analysis of hundreds of official reports shows.
The most serious Derbyshire incident took place in 2016.
At nearly 6,000ft, the drone was being flown far above legal height limits and a board which examined the near-miss said “chance had played a major part” in a crash being avoided.
Police were notified, but the operator of the drone could not be traced.
The UK Airprox Board’s official report into the incident, on October 1, 2016, reveals the runway at East Midlands had been flooded that day and many pilots were opting not to land there.
The Boeing 737 was in a holding pattern as a possible diversion was looked into.
It adds: “The drone was spotted by both pilots almost instantaneously, it was red and black in colour and between 50 to 100cm in size.
“However, due to the close proximity there was no time to take avoiding action. The drone passed down the left-hand-side of the aircraft at the same level and approximately 30m from the wing.”
The board rated the risk of collision as category A, the highest risk rating, making it a ‘serious incident’.
Since the shutdowns at Gatwick and Heathrow, the Government has faced criticism that the events were foreseeable and more should have been done to prevent them.
But the Department for Transport has said there are already laws against such malicious acts.
Aviation Miniser, Baroness Sugg, said: “The actions of these drone users were not only irresponsible, but illegal. The law could not be clearer that this is a criminal offence and anyone endangering others in this way faces imprisonment.
“Airports have measures in place to counter this threat. The Government is also increasing police powers to clamp down on drone misuse, and extending no-fly zones around airports to ensure our skies are safe.”
Two-thirds of the near-collisions seen in the UK so far involved commercial passenger flights, with drones frequently being flown above regulatory height limits or within restricted airport zones.
Irresponsible drone operators are rarely tracked down, the UK Airprox (Aircraft Proximity) Board documents show.
DERBYSHIRE INCIDENTS INCLUDE:
May 28, 2018: Six nautical miles west of East Midlands Airport involving a DHC8 commercial transport aircraft. Rated ‘C’ a ‘significant incident’.
September 19, 2017: Involving an A321 commercial transport plane over Derbyshire. Rated category ‘A’. a ‘serious incident’.
November 29, 2016: Incident over Ladybower Reservoir, near Hathersage, involving a C130 Hercules military transport plane. Rated as category ‘B’, a ‘major incident.
The pilot said his crew initially assumed it was a bird, but it quickly became apparent that the object was stationary, suggesting a collision course and they were forced to change course to avoid it. The drone was close enough for the crew to see the detail of the drone including the individual blades.
October 1, 2016: Incident north of Derby, involoving a B737 plane. This was rated ‘A’, a ‘serious incident’. The drone operator could not be traced.”
October 2, 2014: Incident over Rushup Edge, Derbyshire, involving a paraglider and a quadcopter. Rated as ‘A’, a ‘serious incident’. The paraglider said that each time he changed direction the quadcopter tracked the change and followed him. He added that ‘the hazard of a collision with his thin canopy-to-harness lines caused serious concern’.